With 2012's Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film A Separation -- and its equally impressive predecessor and winner of best film at the 59th Berlin Film Festival, About Elly -- Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has already displayed a knack for making beautifully understated dramas that are just as thought-provoking as they are engaging.
The Salesman is straight from that mold, almost reveling in its modernity over its opening 40 minutes as it sets out of the gate. During this time we're introduced to the young couple Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), who are in the final stage of rehearsal in the leading roles of a local rendition of Arthur Miller's _Death Of A Salesman. _
Emad also works as a teacher, and it's made clear that he's an all-round pleasant chap that's arguably a little too reasonable. After Emad and Rana are forced to move out of their home, they relocate to a house that was previously inhabited by an alleged prostitute. But when Rana is attacked by one of her former clients, after inadvertently letting him into their home, their personal relationship struggles as Emad becomes obsessed with finding the culprit, forgetting his responsibilities at home.
Rather than unfolding like a Hollywoodized revenge thriller, The Salesman eschews action and chase sequences in favor of nuanced looks, interactions and exchanges between its leading duo, while it is such a compelling watch because of the subtle transformation of Emad. Shahab Hosseini is transfixing in the role, and there's a minimalized confidence to his measured performance that comes with having worked on both About Elly and A Separation with Asghar Farhadi.
As Rana, Taraneh Alidoosit, who took the titular role in About Elly, too, is just as devastating, as she struggles with not just the psychological damage inflicted by the attack, but also the impact that it has on her relationship. It's a complex and challenging part, as she has a myriad of eclectic point of views and emotions to depict. Rana goes from actress to housewife to victim to guilt-ridden lover to stoic to disgusted, with many more emotions in between, all of which she's able to do in an implicit and refined manner, while still making us feel the thrust of her situation.
It speaks volumes of Asghar Farhadi approach as both a writer and a director that he's able to give Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosit the room to create such rich and increasingly damaged characters. Like their performances, there's a downplayed confidence to Asghar Farhadi filmmaking style, as he gently feeds us the necessary information required, without ever overstating it or showing his hand.
Key to The Salesman's success is the fact that Asghar Farhadi keeps details of the attack and the revelation of who it was committed by a mystery. We're left wondering if Rana was attacked in the shower, and if there was a sexual element to the assault, all of which adds to the suspense. Meanwhile, he delicately balances out Emad's pursuit of the attacker with the demons that are ravaging him and Rana.
Its almost proudly and defiantly anti-Hollywood, all the way up to its finale, which is surprising in just how drawn-out yet still utterly riveting it is. Instead of possessing an edge-of-your-seat intensity, you sink deeper down in contemplation and dread as things start to unravel. There will be those that believe The Salesman lacks a certain punch or shock-value. But that's not just the point it's also what makes it such a refreshing and thought-provoking watch.